Not every visit to a brewery is in search of the next great beer. Sometimes you have to see where beer started. You have to understand the history. You have to hold tight to the beer of our forefathers, the beer that stocked your grandpa’s garage fridge, that Don Draper sipped at backyard barbecues, that you first stole a sip of at eight when no one was looking. You have to get to the core, the essence. You have to appreciate the past to understand the present. That is why I paid a fine visit to Miller Brewing.
For this visit, instead of the usual crew getting together to pretend that we are the foremost leaders in the beer blog and snobbery industry, I went with my parents and my sister. It was something to do and it was free. Yes, guys, you heard me, the MillerCoors tour is free. So we ventured down to the Miller Valley, which, as you would guess, is a numerous city blocks occupied by Miller. It was also fun to venture outside of Walker’s Point again. The Miller Valley has this beautifully eerie feeling of lost time. It’s quite literally a valley, blocks of the city that the freeway goes over, not through, not around, over. Everything feels suspended in time in the Valley. The first time I ever went to the Miller Valley, I was probably about ten or eleven and my parents were taking us for a nice dinner and my father called it the land that time forgot, and he is very right. It maintains the charm and grit of turn-of-the-century Milwaukee.
So, the tour kicks off in the Visitor Center where there is a gift shop as well as some taps that go unused. I’m sure they host events here, but I’m a bad blogger and legitimately do not know. As I mentioned, tours are free and you can just walk in and ask to get in on the next tour, which run every half hour. Unlike the micros and crafts in the area, as a huge brewery, tours can have a lot of people. I’d say there were at least thirty people on our tour from all over the country. I know this because we had to do that dumb thing where the tour guides were like “RAISE IS YOUR HAND IF YOU’RE NOT FROM MILWAUKEE! OKAY NOW KEEP YOU’RE HAND RAISED IF YOU’RE NOT FROM SOUTHEASTERN WISCONSIN! ALRIGHT, KEEP THAT HAND UP THERE IF YOU’RE NOT FROM WISCONSIN!” And so on. It was painful. We all know that I hate icebreakers and pretending to form attachments with strangers for forty five minutes just to never see them again.
Then we all walked into this little theatre that showed us a 12 minute video about the history of Miller Brewing starting at the beginning and ending sometime around 2012, mentioning the Miller/Coors merger and how great they are to the environment. It starts out benign enough but once you start telling me about your “corporate responsibility,” I start rolling my eyes. Don’t sell me on your company about how well you pay your staff and how you recycle, impress me through your beer but then just don’t be assholes to your employees and the Earth. You shouldn’t have to brag about how you’re good people, you should just be good people, yah dig? I will say, though, the second half of the video had a very Living with the Land feel with the dated footage and the tone and cadence of the narrator, and we all know that I have a soft spot for Living with the Land. It speaks to my soul.
After the video, the kind tour guides ventured out with us. Honestly, there was not so much about specifically how beer is made like you get on tours are the micros. I guess no one cares when you’re producing beer at that scale. What really is talked about a ton is production and distribution. The tour does make the bold claim that Miller was using assembly lines long before Henry Ford and his automobile factories, which I would like to see hard data on. I feel like having grown up in a Milwaukee suburb my whole life, someone would have said that to me. Instead I have been inundate with the whole “Henry Ford didn’t invent the car, but he did invent something much more important. Efficiency!”
I just feel like at some point some teacher would have maybe said that there may have been another man who used the concept of an assembly line to make beer. In fact, I know that my junior year AP US History teacher would have almost 100% told us this if there was even a remote possibility of this being an important fact because this man (shout of to Doc Sobot) is the same teacher who told us that when he was a young student at Marquette University back in the 70s when the drinking age in Wisconsin was 18, him and his friends would go and do Miller tours over and over again all day because you get free beer at the end of the tour. And they would just do like 10 tours in a day. So, if this man who had done the same tour so many times in his life and then grew up to have a PhD in American History and taught us so much stupid stuff about America (see the 5 days we spent watching a re-enactment of an unabridged Lincoln/Douglass debate or the two days we spent discussing an article called “From the Front Porch to the Back Seat: A Brief History of Dating in America) he would have also told us when we got to the stuff about industry, that maybe a German immigrant who settled in Milwaukee, WI invented the assembly line. Maybe not. Maybe I’m too cynical and bitter.
Anyways, that tangent was uncalled for. Why should I doubt them? They seem like nice enough people over at MillerCoors. I guess the one thing that is most important to note is that they mentioned that the number one beer brewed, packaged, and shipped out of the Milwaukee facility is not actually Miller Lite or High Life or MGD or anything like that. It’s Coors Light. That’s right, Coors Light. Like, excuse me but go back to Golden, you impasta. I’m kidding. It’s fine. I understand that MillerCoors are one now, just like Voltron. And I mean that more seriously than you think. Under the MillerCoors banner, there are so many more beers that they now own that have all come together to make a major beer fighting robot. For example, Blue Moon? MillerCoors. Leinenkeugel’s? MillerCoors. Milwaukee’s Best? MillerCoors! Fosters? DAMN RIGHT, THAT TOO. So much beer guys.
After getting a peek at packaging and distribution, we got to go into A CAVE! Not a real cave, but the beer storage caves they used to use before refrigeration. It was dark and beautiful and then there was a hologram of Fredrick Miller (or an actor pretending to be Fredrick Miller). It was almost like the time Tupac’s hologram showed up at Coachella. People were losing their goddamn minds*!
The cave was actually pretty cool, though, and it can be rented out for corporate events and weddings (sometimes) and honestly, I cannot picture anything that says “true love” more than saying your vows under the watchful eye of the Girl in the Moon.
Leaving the cave, we got to head over to the outdoor beer garden for our free beer samples and free pretzels. So, for those of you keeping track at home, the tour costs $0 and you get three free 4 ounce pours for $0 and little snack backs of pretzels for $0 which made this entire outing free!
So, it’s time for the beer roundup as to what everyone had to drink. They make everyone use one of their free beers on a Miller Lite, so we all had that. Then my dad got the Leinie’s anniversary lager, my mom got a Blue Moon, I got the Leinie’s Grapefruit Shandy, and Emily also got a Blue Moon. This is where I must tell you, none of us had our third beers. Why? Because ONE OF THE BEERS GAVE ME HIVES. Like, splotchy, itchy, hot, uncomfortable hives all over my face and neck. Seriously. I tried all the beers my family got, but all of them are beers I’ve had before without incident, but this time one of them betrayed me. So we took off.
Final opinion on the Miller tour? It’s free and it’s fine. Almost everything is pre-recorded but it helps to understand how the beer industry shaped Milwaukee and Milwaukee shaped the beer industry. But, like I said, something there betrayed me and I am really good at holding grudges.
Coming soon to a overblown beer blog near you: A multi-part series on the Baltimore beer scene ft. Nicole and a sausage made of rattlesnake.
*open for interpretation